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Iraq accuses U.S. over arms teams

Sabri: U.N. weapons teams the cover for "U.S., Israeli and British spies"  

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq has accused the United States of wanting U.N. arms inspectors to return to update intelligence information for a possible attack to oust President Saddam Hussein.

Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Washington wants to topple the Iraqi government and install "a puppet regime" to control its oil, the world's second-largest reserve.

"The U.S. has an eye on Iraqi oil," he said in an interview with Reuters.

"They would come to this country, including U.S. spies, Israeli spies and British spies," Sabri said of U.N. inspectors who have been barred from Iraq since December 1998.

Washington and London launched a bombing campaign against Iraq in 1998 because of Baghdad's alleged failure to cooperate with the inspectors.

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Iraq said at the time that the inspection teams had contained spies and it now says the same would happen should they allow inspectors to return.

"Those spies would update information about civilian, economic installations as well as security and military positions and give this data to U.S. intelligence and military bodies so as to use them in attacking Iraq," he said.

"The U.S. and British governments want to attack Iraq and intervene in its affairs and dream about changing its government and imposing a puppet regime on its population," Sabri said.

President Bush said this month his administration would use all tools at its disposal to topple Saddam. He has branded Iraq part of an "axis of evil" supporting terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction.

The New York Times reported on Monday that Washington was considering taking Baghdad first and one or two command centres and arms depots to cause a quick collapse of Saddam's government.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a news conference on Monday that many of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear arms sites are "deeply buried" and would be difficult to destroy using air power alone.

"Baghdad hides its weapons, moves them and knows U.S. secrets for detecting them," Rumsfeld said.

Sabri said Iraqis would fight back against any U.S. military action.

"Iraqis are fighting against American and British colonialists for the last 12 years and if now they would expand their aggression all Iraqi people will fight to defend their freedom, independence and dignity against a colonial invasion."

Sabri said any talks with the United Nations on the return of inspectors should also focus on lifting 12-year-old sanctions and the U.S. and British enforced "no-fly" zones in southern and northern Iraq, imposed by the West after the 1991 Gulf War.

Sabri and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan have met for three rounds of talks but failed to reach an agreement on the return of the U.N. arms experts.

Resuming weapons inspections is key to suspending U.N. sanctions, imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Iraqi analyst Dilip Hiro told CNN that a U.S. attack could bring problems -- including civil war.

"Iraq is split three ways. The Shias, who support Iran, would break away and the Kurds would split away. It would break up the country."

Hiro said that another thing to remember was that Iraq had the second largest oil reserves.

"Could you imagine what happens to the American economy and the stock market if the oil from Iraq goes kaput?"




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